OTTAWA—While the Greens heralded the release of their “fully costed” and “responsible” election platform on Wednesday, an independent analysis by economists at the University of Ottawa delivered the party a failing grade for fiscal transparency and soundness.
The analysis was produced by former parliamentary budget officer (PBO) Kevin Page and his team at the school’s Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy, which ran the Green’s “costed” platform through a predetermined set of parameters to judge whether it makes fiscal sense.
They concluded the Greens failed on all categories of analysis: the party failed to make “realistic economic and fiscal assumptions,” present a plan with “responsible fiscal management,” and they failed on “transparency” by leaving out significant details on its economic outlook.
Page’s team said they found “serious gaps” in the economic assumptions of the party’s platform, including how there is “no background document” to support the fiscal baseline the Greens used to project how they will attain a balanced budget in five years.
“We started looking at the numbers and they don’t add up,” Page told the Star on Wednesday.
“Literally, the numbers — when you go to the various measures of revenues and spending, on the detailed tables — they don’t even add up,” he said. “There’s something missing that’s very substantive.”
Page’s team plans to conduct the same analysis for each major party’s platform during the election campaign.
After the report card was published, the Green Party said it was working on a new version of its platform that will be released as soon as possible with further details about their fiscal assumptions and projections.
“We will be able to further clarify the assumptions that we made, the baseline that we were working with — so there will be — I guess you could call it an improved version or a version with more detail,” said Debra Eindiguer, chief of staff to Green Leader Elizabeth May.
“By the same token, we’re very proud that we are the first party that came out with their full platform,” she said.
Earlier Wednesday, May held a press conference in Halifax to announce the release of the party’s costed election platform. The Greens then published a document on their website that shows costs and expected revenues of scores of measures included in their platform. At the same time, the Parliamentary Budget Office — which is releasing independent costing estimates for election promises submitted by the political parties — published analyses of 21 Green party pledges. Analyses of two other pledges had been done earlier in the campaign.
Since at least last January, the Greens have pledged they would submit their full platform for costing analysis to the PBO. In a statement to the media Wednesday, the Greens claimed they have now “followed through on their promise” and said they are the first party to “present a costed campaign platform.”
Later in the day, the Greens emailed supporters to ask for donations, claiming that May had “changed everything” by showing their “fully costed” platform is both “responsible and progressive.”
May has said the Greens would aim to balance the budget within the five years, even as they vow to transform the Canadian economy to aggressively reduce emissions that cause climate change and institute massive new social programs like free university tuition, universal pharmacare, and a guaranteed minimum income for all Canadians.
While these pledges are expected to cost hundreds of billions of dollars — pharmacare alone is expected to cost $37 billion per year by 2028-29, according to the PBO’s analysis — the Greens are also proposing measures to rake in new revenues. These include a new 0.5 per cent tax on all financial transactions — which May said Wednesday was hiked from 0.2 per cent as first proposed in the Green platform — as well as an increase of the corporate income tax from 15 to 21 per cent,
“Those are going to fundamentally change the way the Canadian economy is going to work,” said Mostafa Askari, chief economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Democracy.
Given that, he said the Greens need to explain how the refurbished economy would work and how they would “deal with this disruption.”
But “none of that is clear in their platform, in their discussions, or in the costing,” Askari said.
“When you look at it that way, there is no way we can give anything but a failing grade to this document.”
While the Greens outlined how much they would spend and expect to gain in revenues if they formed government after the Oct. 21 election, the party has only submitted 23 of its platform promises to the PBO for analysis.
With varying degrees of certainty, the PBO estimates these 23 pledges would amount to hundreds of billions in new costs and revenues over the next 10 years.
But, despite May’s repeated pledge to release a “full” costing of the Green platform, the numbers released so far don’t include everything. Major Green commitments on climate change have not been costed by the PBO, for instance. That includes promises to halt all new fossil fuel development in Canada, block all oil and gas imports, increase the federal carbon price by $10 per year after 2022, and phase out production of bitumen in Alberta’s oilsands by 2035.
The party also hasn’t costed their pledge to replace income support payments like old age security and employment insurance with a single “guaranteed livable income.”
John Bennett, a spokesperson for the Greens, told the Star that this hasn’t been analyzed because the exact shape of the program — including the amount of the annual guaranteed income and the existing social programs it would replace — would only be determined after extensive negotiations between all levels of government.
“We didn’t want to have a number that made people think that this was a really expensive item, when we really don’t know what the cost-benefit analysis is yet,” he said.
The party did not respond Wednesday to subsequent questions about why other measures haven’t been submitted to the PBO for analysis.
So far, the PBO has published estimates for more pledges by the Greens than all other parties, while the Liberals have only released their own partisan cost projections without the office’s independent scrutiny.
For Sahir Khan, executive vice-president at the institute that failed the Greens’ costing, it’s difficult to predict how the Greens could find money to fulfil all their commitments without more details about the underlying assumptions of their fiscal plan and how their major measures would impact the economy.
He added that the PBO’s estimates concluded a “high risk” of uncertainty for several of the main revenue measures proposed by the Greens, including the financial transaction tax that the office concluded could reap several billion dollars per year.
“When you’re spending money and you have certainty with what you’re spending, but you have uncertainty on your revenue, then all of a sudden that fiscal balance that you are illustrating … ends up being potentially just an illustration,” he said.
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga